I explored the lesser-known interior of Fiji

Day 3,228 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

 

The Saga is paradoxical – Fiji is beautiful

pano

This week was for the most part spent between mountains and forest. It was possible because of the support of Thomas, Kenneth, Poul, Jesper, and Jakob whom are friends I made in HK, and possible because Swire Shipping has greenlighted our passage to Samoa

Last week’s entry: From New Zealand to Fiji without flying – and then some!

I would much rather be home than anywhere else. And home is Copenhagen, Denmark, together with ultra-wifey. Yet, the Saga has not been completed yet and we have six countries left. Soon five as I will join Swire Shipping’s good ship “Vanuatu Chief” on Sunday. And a week later we will start exploring Samoa, which is set to become country no. 198 in an unbroken journey completely without flying.

1

Colonial Lodge, Suva, Fiji. 

Before we dive into the lesser-known interior of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu, I will quickly address two paradoxes which I am dealing with and which you might not be aware of. The first is the obviously privileged position of being close to reach every country in the world vs. the feeling itself. I’m well aware that one must be at the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid to embark on such a resource demanding quest. And yet, it has been so resource demanding on my part that it has become valid to pity me – especially for those who know the full story. Mentally tormented as I have been stressed across many years, and overworked from being the spearhead of a project which demands far more hours on a weekly basis than most will ever work. The paradox is of course that I could always quit it and return home. But can I?

2

Street food in Suva. Most of Suva closes down at 6pm. Parts of central Suva becomes really dodgy after nightfall. I don't remember it being this bad in 2019. I feels like it has changed. But this mamma was a true delight and a lot of fun to chat with. She starts at 6pm and works through to 6am.

The second paradox relates to how I seem to be viewed by many vs. how things really are. A case of perception vs. reality. It has always been the goal to promote every country in the world from a positive angle and refrain from the negative as that is overwhelmingly covered by others. As such the social media of Once Upon A Saga most often portrays smiles, gratitude, beauty, and curiosities. Anyone who observes that would naturally come to the conclusion that I am on some sort of holiday and furthermore enjoying it. Reality on the other hand couldn’t be further from it and the very same social media takes a lot of work to create and manage. I could portray the reality of disappointment, failures, hardship, routine, dedication, focus, and other “behind the curtains” elements. But it would be counter productive to much of what this project aims at accomplishing. So, the social media and much else stays positive and lighthearted while the grind continues. And most people’s perception of things will remain distorted from reality. Yeah, enough about that. The Saga is followed by over 100,000 people and these weekly entries are usually just read by a few thousand – including you :)

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Fiji possesses unfair beauty.

Let’s get into this week’s adventures, beauty, kindness, and curiosities. Most people undoubtedly think about beach life or bottled water when they hear about Fiji. A tropical paradise enters the mind which involves white sand beaches, azure blue ocean, palm trees, tropical fish, and drinks with umbrellas in them. And you cannot default anyone for that as Fiji has an abundance of it. Fiji simply has so much more to offer and that side is even unknown to most Fijians. The largest island is called Viti Levu which means “Great Fiji”. Viti Levu is home to the three largest cities/towns: Suva, Lautoka and Nadi. And across Fiji’s many islands people generally live close to the coast. Viti Levu is however host to a great deal of mountains, waterfalls, caves, and highlanders. Once you get a bit up into the elevation the temperature drops and it gets really pleasant.

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Rugby is immensely popular in Fiji!!! And they are good at it!! 

The mountains have many small farmer villages with some of the kindest people living there. Really hard workers who start their days long before the sun rises. And stories about how previous generations used to hide and live inside caves during raids are common. So where are these caves? The locals know but do not see the tourism potential as they are busy making ends meet. The mountains are covered from top to bottom in lush green plants and there is a massive hiking potential which is not being fulfilled. Many of those who live their lives within the mountains do plenty of walking on a day-to-day basis and could not imagine why people would go hiking for fun. There isn’t much which could harm you in Fiji’s forest. Most snakes seem to have been killed off by the mongoose which the Brits introduced. A story I recognize from Jamaica where snakes are now protected in an attempt to restore natures balance. There is a variety of stinging nettle, which unlike the plant in Denmark, stings/burns for a few hours, apparently stings quite bad for more than a week! So don’t touch that plant. And be careful of a delicious but heavy pomelo fruit dropping from a tree.

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The entrance to KANU, Suva, Fiji.

With some time to spare in Fiji before Swire Shipping’s ship would carry the Saga onward, I looked into where I could potentially find some solid hiking. And after a while I found some pretty good suggestions. However, it did not seem straight forward and easy to arrange on my own. It was in fact more complicated than what I anticipated. First of all, most of Fiji’s land is owned by indigenous Fijians (90%). So, you can’t just head up any mountainside without prior permission. And you cannot easily arrange for public transportation within Viti Levu’s interior. There is definitely transport available, which the villagers take advantage of every day. But you would need to know where they leave from, when they do so, and you would need to know some fairly specific place names to pull it off. It can be done. But it requires a lot of work. You could rent a car or pay a taxi driver, which would give you the advantage of mobility. But you would still need to approached the headman or the chief of various villages and offer sevusevu while stating your intentions. You could definitely also do that – but hiring a guide is just so much easier. Sevusevu is a really interesting traditional protocol in which you typically present a bundle of yaqona (kava) roots to the chief (or headman) upon arrival and state your intentions. In this case to hike a mountain or visit a waterfall. If the yaqona bundle is accepted then so is your request. It is a gesture of respect and it sets up a meaningful relationship. The village will then provide you with a guide which you pretty much need anyway as the trails are unspoiled and unmarked.

6

Holly barefooting it in Colo-I-Suva Forest Park.

If we backstep a bit then I met Chantae a week ago who is lovely as can be! Chantae reached out to me long ago and offered to be of assistance once I reached Fiji, where she lives with her partner. We met at KANU which is a trendy restaurant within an old colonial house on Knolly Street. It was formerly known as “Governors”. The walls are adorned with all sorts of memorabilia, old photos, movie posters etc. The food was good and the company was exquisite. Chantae describes herself as an adventure writer and enjoys freediving, surfing, and kitesurfing. Before everything fell into place with the ship to Samoa, Chantae told me about Holly who goes by the name @boatlizard on Instagram where she shares stories about single-handing her (Danish built) Grinde 27’ sailboat around the world. Yes! A young woman sailing around solo. I naturally got in touch with her and a few days later Holly and I met up, had coffee at Royal Suva Yacht Club and then we proceeded to do some light hiking in Colo-I-Suva Forest Park, which is just a ten-minute drive from Suva. Holly was as cool as you might imagine and we had a great time together talking about social media, creating content, having an online following, the work behind it, the misunderstandings, and the strange comfort in being able to use social media as company.

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Who has the best beard!? Junior (in blue) was our guide for Mount Tomanivi. Joji is on the far right.

It was also Chantae who got me in touch with Joji Tamani whom became my guide for four days. Joji knows the interior of Viti Levu really well and is full of stories. He used to play pro rugby and even had a short 7–8-minute appearance on New Zealand’s famous All Blacks team. Joji is fifty years old and stopped playing rugby when he was thirty-five, so a lot has gone on since. Before the pandemic he helped organize Eco Challenge Fiji, which was a huge team survival competition hosted by Bear Grylls. What can I say, If you plan to go hiking in Fiji, and you should, then reach out to Joji at Tamani Adventures: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I rarely splurge on a side adventure within Once Upon A Saga, but sometimes I do for various reasons. I did a several day hike up to Machu Picchu in Peru because back then I already felt that the Saga was far to administrative and that there had to be more enjoyment for me. I was also unsure about when I would ever get to visit Peru again. This week I could have stayed in Suva and saved money. But I wanted to explore Fiji’s hidden beauty and it was made possible by the support of my Patrons. In particular by Thomas, Kenneth, Poul, Jesper, and Jakob, who all became Patrons as a farewell gift when I left Hong Kong. This week wasn’t overly expensive – but it was well outside a USD 20/day budget. The rest of this entry will be in photos and captions. Enjoy.

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My first two night up in the mountains were spent here at Stone Bowl Lodge. An old colonial house which Una took care of. It's a stone throw from the source of the Singatoka river. 

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Junior points into the vast landscape with his machete.

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Junior and I at the peak of Fiji's highest mountain: Mt. Tomanivi which reaches 1,324m (4,341ft) a.s.l. Of course we brought the Ross banner to the peak!! :) three hours up and three hours down.

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Una preparing dinner at Stone Bowl Lodge. She goes to bed at 9pm and gets up at 3am. She doesn't have much but she is grateful to the lord for every little thing. Her husband passed away years ago. He had a stroke which paralyzed half his body. She took care of him for ten years while his temper worsened. Now she is left taking care of her children, grandchildren, and her business selling roti's to the villagers. Una is a hard worker and has a wonderful smile.

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On our second night at the Stone Bowl Lodge Una got creative with our dinner.

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I spotted this within the Stone Bowl Lodge. The pandemic was hard for many in Fiji. There were regional lockdowns which lasted 8-9 months. When I asked Una if the Fiji Red Cross were doing a good job she was quick to reply: "Yes! Very!". I had an opportunity to make a brief re-visit to the Fiji Red Cross Monday this week. They are indeed doing a good job.

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Horses play a large role up in Fiji's mountains. A lot of places they are the only way to get around.

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Joji and I met with Mr Roko in Nabutautau village and he joined us for a circular hike (Sasa/Lolo Circuit). We even explored the ruins of Visi, which was a powerful village long ago. Mr Roko appologized for the weather as it limited the otherwise amazing views. I tend to find that a rainy day can add another level of beauty. Mr Roko was however glad to see rain in and around his village as they had had no rain for several months. He thanked me for bringing the rain.

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Mr. Roko is a direct descendant of the village chief who sealed the faith of Rev. Thomas Baker who was cannibalized. It is quite the story and worth a read. Mr. Roko is very gentle and kind. At sixty years of age he has seen a thing or two and showed me a lot of kindness. He threw a stick at this pomelo which dropped to the ground. Afterwards we shared it. Delicious.

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Fresh Fijian pomelo.

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Joji snaps a photo of the Western Province which is far dryer that the east.

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We spent our third night in a farmers house. Really nice people. Due to the rain they had been drinking grog (kava) since 3pm and continued until 9pm. I observed an interesting custom as a woman walked between some of the other farmers. She said: "jilou, jilou, jilou, jilou, jilou". It roughly translates to excuse me - but not quite. It is specifically for passing between two people in conversation or a similar scenario. You keep your head down while doing so and remain humble. I liked that.

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Joji told me to take this picture as this is a sign few Fijians would have seen: the intersection between Nausori Highland Rd, Nanoko Rd, and Sigatoka Rd :)

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Dangling my Salomon X Ultra 04's over the Lolo/Qalivunda waterfall as the proud Salomon Ambassador I am :)

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Ah yes, Fiji surely has beautiful beaches - but I belong in the mountains. And Viti Levu's mountain life is as authentic and unspoiled as it gets! It's a hard but also good life up there. And I felt it heal my heart. Fiji, thank you for now. I will be back again for round three soon enough. Sota tale (see you again). Vinaka (thank you).

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - looking forward to joining another Swire vessel!

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From New Zealand to Fiji without flying – and then some!

Day 3,221 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Memories from the good ship YWAM Koha – and beyond

pano

We might as well continue where we left off two weeks ago: I had joined the good ship YWAM Koha in Tauranga, NZ, and we were possibly leaving north to Opua, still in NZ. However, we remained to be a Chief Officer short from forming a complete crew.

The former entry: I guess we got our answer! Back to sea…(farewell NZ)

We departed Tauranga on Friday July 22nd. This day had been a long time coming for YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Roughly 3.5 years according to the speech Marty (General Manager) gave to the camera just before we left. He’s definitely rhetorically strong and seems like an all-round good guy. Marty stayed behind and would fly to Fiji. As we started moving some of us assembled on top of the wheelhouse (the monkey island) waved to the crowd which gathered to send us off and a speaker was blasting “come sail away” performed by Styx.

1

"Come sail away. Come sail away. Come sail away with me". Rocking out as we departed NZ. Next to me: Sam, Steve, and Abby.

The crew was still lacking a Chief Officer before we could enter international waters. But within New Zealand we had everyone we needed. So, we headed up the east coast to Russell in the Bay of Islands. Russell is near Opua which I thought we would go to. The voyage took close to a day and reminded us all that the good ship rolls and pitches a lot even with little swell and wind. The engine shut down during the short voyage, which would be the first of three times during the entire voyage. It was cold in New Zealand so the heating was turned on, which proved too much for a generator and the engine was shut off. With the engine off we drifted for 10-15 minutes before it was up and running again. The second time was when a (thought to be) secured can flew off a shelf in the engine room and struck the key, turning the engine off?!? Yes! What are the odds? And the third time was as we approached Fiji, the temperatures rose and the air-conditioning was switched on. Our brave master and commander was Captain Mark who oozed a kind and friendly confidence with his broad shoulders and gentle personality. We felt safe onboard.

2

The bridge onboard the good ship YWAM Koha. Often a busy place :)

The Bay of Islands is where British trade first began with the Māori about 200 years ago. The Māori were well settled in the area long before European interference. Apparently, the Māori were keen to trade and also wanted respect, which they so rightfully deserved. With a steady stream of British ships arriving, Russell grew in size and became a pretty lawless place for a while. For a single year Russell was the first capitol of New Zealand before it was Auckland’s turn for a bit more than a decade, and today it is of course Wellington. The Bay of Islands also became the scene for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is said to be Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important historic site. In 1840 the Brits had many Māori chiefs sign the treaty, which was to ensure mutual respect but also the take-over by the British crown. Britain was far stronger and the Māori didn’t really have much choice. Some chiefs signed because they believed in the treaty, some signed because they hoped to benefit in trade, some signed because others signed, some left without signing, and so on. I’ve heard many describe it as a very good treaty. However, the treaty wasn’t really upheld as intended and the Brits eventually became the dominant power while Māori culture and rights were watered down. Something which is still being made up for today. From what I’ve seen, things are quite good now. Kiwiland has certainly come a long way. We had a few days at anchorage in the Bay of Islands as the weather was far to harsh for us to make the crossover to Fiji. We also waited for our Chief Officer (who arrived) and some paperwork (which was approved).

3a

Robbie is a deck hand. But also so much more than that. He truly knows the good ship really well. While staring into the bay he shared a story from his childhood. It started like this: “I once kayaked to that island over there. There’s a cave. We were told not to go in there…”

3b

Christ Church in Russell, est. 1836. The oldest church in New Zealand.

3c

Having a beer with some of the YWAM'ers at the legendary Duke of Marlborough in Russell. Sam is next to me (he didn't drink).

3d

THIS MADE MY DAY!! A Blue Penguin showed up at the ship and did a lap around us. A PENGUIN!! :)

We departed New Zealand on July 27th. On that very day I found the chance to make an ultra-short visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Entry was free if you were under 18-years. Kiwis could enter for NZD30 and foreigners had to pay NZD60!? I fail to see the logic in having foreigners, who have obviously travelled far at high expense, pay twice the price of locals, to learn about a foreign country’s history? If anything, it should be less for foreigners? The museum was however good. I raced through it and could easily have spent a full day. I also made it out to see the House of Gathering, the Treaty House, and the Flagstaff (all historical sites). While the entry price was steep (to say the least) I could truly feel the significance of the treaty grounds, which in itself is yet another stunning part of an in many ways beautiful country.

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The Waitangi flagstaff marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on February 6th 1840.

There isn’t much to say about the passage itself. It took a few days, for some of our twenty beating hearts onboard, to find their sea legs. It was quite a bumpy ride. I slept a lot, we saw a bunch of movies in the lounge, we ate three times a day, and there was plenty of time for conversations too. I really love that ship. YWAM Koha was built in Germany back in 1968 and a lot onboard looked like it might have been fifty years old. On one occasion I helped the Chief Engineer look for an adjustment valve in the German manuals from 1968. I speak and read a bit of German. It was heavy reading but we found something. Fun to be onboard such an old ship. Kind of felt like the "good old days" when we were chasing ships in the Caribbean.

5a

Looking through the porthole. The water was all murky after the storm with all the sand that had been mixed into it.

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Nate and Shelby were the only couple onboard. They were usually busy but I caught them for a moment resting in the lounge.

The good ship started as a buoy tender in Germany, then found herself on South Africa’s coast, moved on to Pitcairn Islands, and now operates as a “hospital ship”. The good ship also featured in the Hollywood production “The Meg” with Jason Statham in the lead role. One day while crossing to Fiji a flying fish flew through the porthole of Lai’s cabin and landed on his table. Lai along with Meli were the only two Fijians onboard. I shared a cabin with Meli and with Antony who’s from New Zealand. Other nationalities included the UK and the USA (with both Alaska and Hawaii represented). I kid you not when I say there were only good people onboard. I could write a page about each and every one of them. Such diversity.

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The youngest onboard was Sam at 13 years. The only minor and basically just onboard for the experience. Cool kid. Many brought their bibles onboard and some would read daily. Being a Christian organization there was daily prayer and worship. We were a mix of crew and passengers with some being “traditionally Christian” while others onboard took Christianity very seriously. I really liked Jono who’s a 29-year-old medical doctor with long hair, really good energy and a believer in creationism. As such Jono was convinced that our planet is around 6,000 years old. I subscribe to that it is closer to 4.5 billion, which led to some good long conversations, because how do we really know anything? I can say something fancy like “Carbon-14 dating”. But how does that even work? I have spent some time reading about it in the past and it breaks down to how atoms slowly decay over time, and I understand the explanation – but how do I know that it is true? As I’m no geologist I arrive at a dead end where I say I trust/believe the consensus amongst scientists. Can I prove what I believe? Hardly. Can Jono prove that God created the earth and everything in it 6,000 years ago? Hardly. I’m better positioned to argue my case against a “flat earth believer” as I can observe why the planet isn’t flat. But Jono isn’t a flat earth believer. Thousands of years ago Socrates may (or may not) have said: “I know that I know nothing”. Jono is a smart guy with an opinion which differs from mine – so we had some great conversations as the good ship rolled and pitched.

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Antony and I shared a cabin. Great guy!

7b

Our cook was Shai from Hawaii. Absolutely no complaints! ;)

There were many good conversations onboard. Many good people. I would reason that it must be because volunteers who want to do good on this earth mostly stem from the same "branch". Back in July when I announced that I would be joining YWAM’s ship to Fiji, several people reached out to me and told me to look forward to the journey exactly because of the many good people. I was not disappointed.

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So happy that they both agreed to this photo. Amazing guys! Thanks to YWAM Ships Aotearoa and all onboard. I wish you all: fair winds and following seas!

Yeah, so, after quite a bit of rolling and pitching the good ship made it to Suva which is the capitol of Fiji. Somewhere around mid-December 2019 I did that for the first time when Fiji became country no. 192. Imagine that? I have twice within my life disembarked a vessel after arriving to Suva. To make the logistics work there will also be a third time and possibly a fourth. Fiji is the regional powerhouse with the highest GDP, the largest population, and also the largest by size. In fact, Fiji is one of the few Pacific Ocean countries, I could have made a lot of if we had become stuck in Fiji for two years during the pandemic and not in Hong Kong, which I now consider my second home. I miss my friends in Hong Kong. Anyway, as Captain Mark and his brave crew steered the good ship towards the pilot station outside Suva, we got our first good view of the city. Towers were rising within the little capital which is a clear sign that Chinese investors are being active. First the pilot came onboard. Soon after Suva Covid Response Team came onboard and took every one’s temperature. Once we came along side immigration came onboard. We were at the pilot station at 08:00am. Along side in Suva at 09:40am. Cleared to leave the ship around 3:00pm. Welcome back to island time :)

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This friendly customs officer demanded that I took a photo of us (with my phone) and shared it with you all saying: Fiji customs welcomes us!

I was a man with a mission. Once I had both feet on the ground I dashed up to Colonial Lodge, where I had stayed back in 2019. The case being that I was looking for low-cost accommodation as well as my box with personal belongings, which I had left behind years ago. I figured I would be back to retrieve my box before August 2020. But the pandemic broke out, I was stuck in Hong Kong, and with time I lost touch with Colonial Lodge. A lot of business in Fiji is dependent on tourism and with the pandemic in full swing it has, and still is, tough times for many. I reached the lodge around 3:15pm, knocked on the door and was let in by Josh. Once inside I met his mother Suzie and explained myself. The lodge clearly wasn’t operational any longer. Suzie shared that they had just come back at 1pm and barely spend anytime at the lodge anymore. So, it was quite remarkable that I showed up two hours later. Furthermore, they had renovated and if I had left a box in 2019 then it was likely no longer there. I asked if we could check the closet and Suzie led the way. She opened the closet doors and sure enough it was empty. But I remembered that the box was stored behind the upper closet doors. And sure enough: there it was! Quite dusty having been there for more than 2.5 years.

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Proof that I was in Suva back in December 2019. My flag as well as a Once Upon A Saga sticker was still to found at Colonial Lodge.

We sat down and had chat. It turns out Suzie and I first met during the week I stayed at Colonial Lodge back in December 2019. The memories began to come back. Sadly, Suzie had lost her father not long ago. I remembered him. In fact, I was able to find a photo on my phone of Suzie’s father sleeping on a couch by a window. He was once the President of the Fiji Red Cross. We agreed that I could stay at the lodge although it wasn’t officially a guesthouse anymore. The future of the beautiful colonial house is uncertain as it may be rented out, sold, or something else.

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Niko follows the Saga, recognized me, and welcomed me to the Yacht Club :)

My next stop was Royal Suva Yacht Club. According to what I’ve been told, sailboats are currently heading across from Fiji to Vanuatu. And reaching Vanuatu was the original plan when we left New Zealand. But since then, both Samoa and Tonga have opened their borders, which gives us more options to play with. At the yacht club I met Meme, a beautiful woman who immediately showed kindness and wanted to help. A moment later Niko showed up, looked at me and said: “hey, I follow you online!” Meme and Niko told me that a few boats had just arrived and that they would see if they could help. Fijians are so kind. Really kind in fact. Walking about in Suva it is super easy to strike up a conversation.

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Tuvalu is now the greatest challenge. Their borders are still closed. So if you know someone who can open a door for us then please let me know.

I returned to YWAM Koha for a last night onboard. That evening I learned that Swire Shipping had a vessel arriving the next day, which the day after would head to Samoa (which had just opened its borders on August 1st). Could I join the ship? I reached out to my friend Paramesh who promptly connected me with Swire’s regional manager Mr. Shyam Reddy. Mr Shyam was very kind and quick to look into possibilities regarding the ship. A friend of mine in American Samoa is well connected and began working on getting me authorization to enter Samoa as a passenger on a container ship. Travel without flying is far more complex than air travel. While Samoa is open for tourism, it might only apply for tourist who fly in. I rarely consider myself a tourist but there is no box to tick for adventurer/explorer.

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Marty delivering an emotional speech. He explained that they are an NGO. Their presence in Fiji is a gift from the people of New Zealand to the people of Fiji.

The managing director of YWAM Ships Aotearoa, Marty Emmett, had flown in to Suva a week ahead of our arrival and greeted us onboard the good ship as we arrived. Marty had also convinced me to hang around the following day for the official Fijian welcome to YWAM Ships Aotearoa. No small thing with ministers, chiefs, officials of all sorts, and the Fijian Police Band. It was quite emotional to hear Marty speak, but for me the highlights were Māori Chief Ray Totorewa’s speech/performance, which was nothing less than powerful, impressive, and inspiring! And the Fijian Police Band which was so unbelievably full of joy, life, mischief, fun, and of course music!! My goodness! If you want to fall in love with Fiji then just watch them for a few minutes. I had tears in my eyes and could hardly contain my emotion. The official Fijian welcome conflicted with two of my meetings. But it all worked out in a mix of rescheduling and island time.

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Swire Shipping was the agent for YWAM Koha and invited me into this photo with some of the "top dogs" from YWAM Ships Aotearoa.

The next thirty-six hours were labor intensive and stressful. Were we going to pull it off? Was I going to join New Guinea Chief to Suva? Mass coordination between Swire Shipping in Samoa, Fiji, and Singapore. My friend in American Samoa was on the case. Updates, progress, requirements, research. There were four elements we had to sort: 1) green light from authorities in Samoa, 2) green light from authorities in Fiji, 3) capacity onboard the good ship, and 4) a negative PCR-test. If I could get on that ship then we would soon be in Samoa with five countries left. From Samoa there’s a service to Tonga and we could be down to four! And believe it or not, Tonga could connect us to Vanuatu and we could be down to three!! Tuvalu is the odd one out as they are still tight as a drum. But if we were left with only three countries then that might be incentive for Tuvalu to open a door and let me quarantine on arrival. The good ship New Guinea Chief was due to depart on August 4th around noon. You cannot imagine the amount of phone calls, emails, and text messages this involved.

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That evening Suzie invited me to join her and Josh at Suzie’s aunts place for dinner and grog (kava). Kava is kind of the tourist name for the mildly sedative drink made from crushed roots and enjoyed widely across parts of the pacific. Fijians call it grog or yaqona (which you pronounce yang-go-na). I missed an opportunity to try it back in 2019 and have always been curious. But with everything which was going on it seemed wise to kindly decline. Oh, what the heck! I accepted the invite and joined them for a lovely dinner in a small local home. Afterwards, Josh prepared the grog by straining the crushed roots with water and serving it in a large communal bowl. Then we each took turns drinking from our separate small bowls. There is much tradition and culture involved. The large communal bowl is “opened” with a gesture, and the first small bowl of grog is only ingested after having said “bula”. And you have to finish the large bowl! As such you just keep drinking until there is no more. I guess I had around ten small bowls of grog and never felt a thing. I did however like the taste as well as the tradition. It was a lovely evening in good company.

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Having some fun with Swire Shipping in Suva! :)

16c

Mr Aranesh Dao was excited when I showed up at Swire's office. He follows online. He grabbed FJD20 out of his pocket and insisted that I took it. Thank you :)

The next day came and it was still not clear if I was joining the ship. As noon approached, the departure was pushed later into the day, making it a long and stressful day. Mr Shyam was in and out of meetings and could not always be reached. When would the ship depart? Did we have enough time? All of a sudden there was bureaucratical progress. Samoa’s Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet produced an “authorization to travel and enter Samoa” signed and stamped by the Government of Samoa Immigration Office. Boom! Solid progress. Swire Shipping however still required confirmation on Samoa’s Health travel requirements. And the internet was down at an office we needed to communicate with. Bad luck. Swire’s Global Operations Manager got involved and at 7:30pm he (Ajay) could tell me that the good ship was about to leave without me. But assured me that we would work on another solution for next week.

17

I'm still Mr. Negative. Let it continue so I can get onboard the ships and enter the final countries.

Time is a valuable commodity. All of these small delays have added up to years. I am no fan of any form of delay. It is my hope that we will be done with the Pacific Ocean, which I am very fond of, by the end of this year. And then we will have two countries in the Indian Ocean before I can return home, something many of you already know, I have been wanting to do since 2015. Well, here’s the thing, this would have been far more unbearable if Fiji had not been such a wonderful place. And as a final twist as things have developed: we are set to join Swire Shipping’s good ship Tuvalu Chief to Samoa, departing around mid-August. So, we now have ten days in Fiji during our second visit. A country we are likely to visit four times to make the logistics work. I read this on a cup this morning: "be the reason someone smiles today". Not a bad goal.

 

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Chief of Once Upon A Saga.

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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I guess we got our answer! Back to sea…(farewell NZ)

Day 3,207 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Farewell beautiful Kiwiland

pano

It is true that we do not know what tomorrow holds. But we do know that tomorrow has bigger potential if we actively search for opportunities and keep our doors open.

Last week’s entry: Six more to go. Come on – we can do this! Aotearoa New Zealand

Welcome back. I ended last week’s entry with this sentence: “Let’s see if next week will be a seafaring voyage or a life on wheels.” What a prophecy. The answer turned out to land somewhere in between. This week I miraculously made it to Penrose in Auckland with a couple of buses. Two buses pulled “no-shows” and one did not stop all together although I signaled the driver? It will be a blessing for Auckland when they finally complete the metro ring they are currently working on. It is beyond my comprehension how the greatest city in such a great country could possibly have such a dysfunctional bus system? A few weeks ago, I gave up on catching a bus and walked for 90 minutes instead (which was probably good for my health in the end). Ups…I lost my way there (as do most of Auckland’s city buses). Anyway, I reached Penrose, I picked up the campervan I had hired for 11 days, and without much delay I drove the 47km (29mi) I took to get to Piha. Piha is on the west coast and offers some impressive views of sand beaches and rock formations. Besides, the ocean has always been good for the heart.

1

Piha Beach. Lion Rock in the background.

I am battling fatigue. Burnout, some would say. We have unlocked 197 doors within this never-ending project and “only” have 6 to go. They are unbelievably complex though. I know some of my well-travelled friends are in awe of how far we have made it within the Saga. Apparently reaching many of the Pacific Island nations can be hard enough when you fly. Without flying it is near impossible. Then throw in a pandemic and see how you fare. I’m uncomfortably dependent on support and this week it did not come through. Our friends at Neptune Pacific Direct Line (NPDL) unfortunately had to inform me: “Our Covid committee can’t see a way we can introduce a passenger, until regulations at destination country allows it, it simply introduces too much risk to our already disrupted schedules.” My friend Craig (in Brisbane, AUS) tried to help and introduced me to Armacup who also operate vessels within the Pacific. Unfortunately, it did not take long for them to reply: “We are unable to assist you with your endeavours due to the company’s current covid policy”. And when I asked if it was possible to reconsider, and informed how we have already traveled onboard four container ships this year, the reply was: “unfortunately risk to business is too great thus unable to reconsider”. On the upside both NPDL and Armacup added: “We’ll be happy to assist should there be a change in our policy in the future.”

2a

1 liter of gas goes for NZD 3.00 (USD 1.87) in Kiwiland.

2c

Proof! In Kiwiland people are just people too. Truck drivers blocking two lanes while overtaking each other as one is moving marginally slower than the other. Yes, it took forever. 

Recently I have been trying to find a way to explain what makes all of this as hard as it evidently is. The best I have come up with is a strange house with 203 rooms lined up in a long line snaking across the horizon. Some doors have been unlocked and some rooms have been uncluttered and easy to walk across. Some doors have been welded shut and some rooms have been stuffed with furniture we have had to climb over and under. There are so many rooms behind me. So many rooms. The card house image is also on my mind. A card house constructed by 197 cards. My shaky hands are trying to place the last six cards. Maybe those are dumb examples. But few of you can imagine being in a new country every 16th day on average over the stretch of eight years and nine months. And furthermore, doing all the work to make the transition between them. Six to go!! Six!!! Why is the required help not available?!? Well, maybe it is (to some degree). Because a friend of mine told me that the beautiful Government of Samoa has accepted that I can enter their amazing country now, even before they open for tourism! Yes! A special permission has been granted!! (we still need a vessel though).

3

A fascinating fact: there are no snakes in Kiwiland.

Van life in Kiwiland is pretty good. After spending a few hours in Piha I decided to make my way to Waiuku 94km (59mi) away. I did not want to pay the NZD22 (USD14) parking fee in Piha for a single night (no electricity). Waiuku was offering a “freedom camping” spot, which is code for free overnight parking in Kiwiland. I figured it would be nice to wake up in a small village and have a look around. While on the road I listened to which ever radio channels I could find. It was charming listening to Kiwi accents speak of both problems and solutions. Tips and tricks. Songs I haven’t heard before and songs we all listen to. On and off I would stop to check messages, and all the marinas sang the same tune: “the boats we knew of have already left and so have most others. But you might get lucky”. Around June 30th, someone tipped me off about a ship in Tauranga which was preparing to leave for Fiji. I wrote the ship and was immediately replied to with: “Hey Thor, do you have any certificates?” I explained that I am fully vaccinated and have extensive experience as a passenger on container ships, and was then met with: “okay, I’ll have a chat with our team. We have limited spots which most are reserved for people with certifications but will pass this on”. Now, more than two weeks later, it was time to follow up on that lead again.

4

After waking up in charming Waiuku, I set the GPS for Tauranga (east coast) in hope that I could find the good ship YWAM Koha along with somebody who would grant me passage onboard. It was a 210km (130mi) drive on a mix of small curvy roads and some stretches of highway. The beauty of the landscape was undeniable. Fields, grassy hills, a few sheep, a lot of cows, some puzzling rock formations, small town life, truck stops, Kiwi radio, blue skies, grey skies, rain, sun, rain, sun… I have read J.R.R Tolkien’s books, Lord of the Rings, and I have been delighted by the movies. Every scene (apart from one) were shot in Kiwiland. There were several times I thought to myself that it would make perfect sense if a couple of Hobbits jumped out of a bush on the roadside. And then a road sign appeared: “Hobbitville 3km to the left”. That sounds like a fun idea for when I some day return to Kiwiland with ultra-wifey. Not long after that, I found myself in Tauranga and spotted YWAM Koha on my left side before heading across a bridge. That was easy?! I made a U-turn, came back across the bridge, and making a longer story a little shorter, I made my way onboard the ship. Onboard I met Sue, she introduced me to Hannah, who introduced me to Marty. And I was soon invited to have lunch with them. After a while, Marty ran the idea of having me onboard by Captain Mark, and another manager – after which, Marty sent me a longed-for hand sign: the thumbs-up! :)

5

Onboard YWAM Koha. Koha translates to gift or donation.

A new plan had formed. Return to Fiji – find a way to Vanuatu. Fiji is about 2,000km (1,200mi) from Kiwiland and Vanuatu is about 1,000km (600mi) from Fiji. Vanuatu opened its borders on July 1st. Once we reach Vanuatu, I have enough fingers on one hand to count the remaining countries. My head was spinning. I didn’t actually expect YWAM Ships Aotearoa would take me onboard. They are a serious organization which operates with volunteers that specialize in various ways. YWAM (Youth With A Mission) was founded in 1960, is an interdenominational Christian organization, and does various humanitarian work. YWAM Koha’s specific purpose is to bring dental hygiene to isolated islands in the South Pacific. Everyone I’ve met at YWAM have been really nice and in exchange for my passage I have promised to share a series of post of YWAM’s choice across Once Upon A Saga’s social media. Specifically, Facebook (62,000 followers) and Instagram (40,000 followers).

6

A quick smile for the camera before going back to frowning. Too much to do. Not enough time. The good ship is however a beauty!! Built in Germany back in 1968. Very cool!

With that in place I had to return the campervan after only two nights. There were hopes for the good ship to leave the very next day so I had to rush. I got back on the road and covered the 202km (126mi) to Auckland. With the vehicle in my possession, I had planned to visit my cousin and the Red Cross in Wellington. I was hoping to promote Ross.dk and GEOOP’s involvement in geothermal energy at the highly geothermal active region of Rotorua. And I had started to dream about getting to ski again after a now very long time. And what about all the people who were trying to help me find a way out of Kiwiland? I had a lot of people to contact. Therefore, while I was happy about getting permission to join YWAM to Fiji, I was in no mood for smiling. I was in execution mode.

7

Camping outside Tessa's home.

The following morning, I had another tv appearance on NZTV and had said yes to show up at 07:00am. The night before I decided to drive to Verandahs in hope that Campbell would allow me to use the facilities (shower, washing machine, high speed internet). No problem. I got everything done before driving out to Tessa’s (NZTV reporter) home address late at night, and fell asleep parked on the roadside, while the rain sounded against the roof. At 07:00am I met Tessa, and we headed to her backyard pool, which was the setup for a fun live report. Initially NZTV wanted to help me locate a vessel to Vanuatu/Fiji. But with that sorted we were just doing a short farewell and thanks to Kiwiland. Tessa had arranged for a rubber dinghy and during the interview (in the rain) she revealed the dinghy, which was for me, so that I could reach the final countries. Fun.

8

Aotearoa = "the land of the long white cloud". It should be: "the land of the tall green hedges". The amount of impossibly tall and dense hedges I have seen in the past few days?!?

I delivered the campervan back to Penrose, and soon after I was on a bus heading back to Tauranga, where I quickly met Selena’s lovely mum Leanne, before I joined the ship. Interestingly the ship wasn’t ready to leave yet. They surely wanted too, but YWAM had not yet secured a 1st officer. The remaining crew was complete. Quite impressive given that everyone onboard was/is volunteering and thus not paid. A 1st officer was all which was missing. Ideally a volunteer 1st officer will appear but while I write this YWAM might have to pay for one. The show must go on. The uncertainty continues. We might head up north to Opua today (Friday), which is Kiwiland’s northernmost customs/immigration post. We might also stay a little longer in Tauranga. I’m just happy to be onboard. The crossing is set to take about seven days so I expect to be back in Suva before August. Our first visit to Fiji was in December 2019 ahead of the virus outbreak in Wuhan (simpler times). Oh well, what did this week offer? “A seafaring voyage or a life on wheels?” A bit of both it would seem. Welcome to my world of uncertainty, opportunity, and possibility.

final

Soon to make transit in Fiji. Let's not get stuck for two years again.

 

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop

 

If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)

 

 Patreon Picture2MobilePay

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Thank you Kiwi's!! I will return. That's guaranteed!

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 Once Upon A Saga logo small

Once Upon A Saga

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